The Census from 1841 to 1901
The census is probably the most essential aid to finding the family line from the 1800s. The first was taken in 1801 but unfortunately for the genealogist, this and the following three were nothing more than a head count. The first full census was in 1841 on Sunday 6th and Monday 7th June. Not a great deal of information was recorded but it is helpful enough to find where someone lived and who was with them at the time. Thankfully, the amount of information on the forms improved over the years. As with today, the householder was required to complete a ‘census schedule’ sent to them in the week preceding the census day. Questions included, street name; first and last name; age; marital status; profession or trade; if of independent means, and whether the inhabitant was born in the county. Answers to some of these were completed by ticking a box.
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The problems with most of the census are that many of the people in the towns and villages were illiterate, so it was left to those conducting the census (the ‘enumerators’) to fill in the forms. The accent of the person would have caused problems i.e. understanding a Yorkshire man in London or visa versa, or if the enumerator had just come from a person with a similar-sounding name, he may well have chosen the spelling of a previous entry. These problems can be seen throughout the census.

A good example of the problems we have encountered can be seen in the 1851 census for London. An example is Godfrey Simmonet, who we know was around in 1841 and 1871 but missing in 1851. The basic information we have on him is that he was born in Yorkshire around 1790, his occupation is a plumber, and he's widowed. We know of his children, specifically Ann, his daughter. However, the only Godfrey that meets all the criteria (Yorkshire, born abt.1790, plumber and him the most probable candidate, is that his daughter Ann Smith, whose age is entered as 30, her birthplace is Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire. By 1861 Ann is living in Kent, she is now aged 40 and again her birthplace is in Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire, but she is entered as Ann Simmonett. Clutching at straws? I personally don't think so. But why Smith? Well a few doors away is the Smith family. We may never if these details are correct.